The ghost of gameplay past.
Nintendo and developer n-Space invite you to become corporeally challenged with Geist, a first-person action-adventure steeped in the supernatural. But unlike the scores of other games that let you bust ghosts left and right, this one turns you yourself into an apparition. You'll use spiritual powers to possess a wide array of living and inanimate hosts in an attempt to rescue one of your pals from waking up dead in a top-secret subterranean lab.
With such a unique possession mechanic, the game has a lot of potential. Sadly, a frightening lack of freedom and some terrifying technical problems scare most of the fun out of this spirit.
You are John Raimi, a lab rat specializing in biology and chemistry. One day, your pal working undercover at the creepy Volks Corporation goes missing, so you accompany a Special Forces gang sent in to investigate. Unfortunately, the mission fails and as luck would have it, your spirit is ripped from your body. Wonder how much workman's comp that nets?
After a brief tutorial, you learn that you've indeed become a ghost and that your only way back is through the power of possession. Naturally this means you can possess normal humans, but you can also take control of useful inanimate objects, like explosive crates, or mundane items, like mops. It sounds pretty simple, but the act of possession is actually a bit tough. Humans and animals can only be possessed when they're in a nervous state, so you'll need to scare the snot out of them first. This is often accomplished by possessing nearby objects and being ghostly with them, such as rattling around as a paint can and spilling yourself in front of a guard. Once you've got them shaking in their boots (or paws, or packing container, or whatever), a red aura surrounds them and they can then be possessed.
Each host has its own unique ability. Inanimate objects are usually used as scare tactics, animals can be used to reach otherwise hard to reach places, and humans have weapons, muscle and brains. It's your task to solve the game's puzzles by figuring out how to use the various possess-able things the right way.
Unfortunately, you're quite limited in what you can possess. The things that can be possessed aren't even consistent. You might be able to possess a rat in one room but not in another, or use a mop bucket as a distraction in one room, but not another. On the other hand, if something can be possessed, it pretty much always follows that you have to possess it. Somehow we thought ghosts would enjoy a little more freedom.
Instead, you'll have to enjoy figuring out how to proceed. For example, you might need to possess a soda machine and spew cans at a guard to get his attention. Then you can possess the cans, roll over to him and explode to really creep him out. Sometimes you can even jump from host to host in the middle of a firefight, confusing the heck out of the bad guys. The different combinations of scare tactics are pretty imaginative and often fun to play through. It's too bad they're so linearly structured.
While being a ghost seems cool, there are some drawbacks. As a specter, you are saddled with a constant need to find a host. Floating around on your own is kind of like holding your breath underwater – you can only do it in short bursts. The good news is that you usually have more time available than you need. Even if you manage to run low, you can just pop back into any host or absorb a plant to gain more "life." You are also limited by solid walls. I suppose that makes sense from a gameplay standpoint, but it's definitely a bummer that you can't perform such a basic ghost function. We've seen Casper - we know what real ghosts can do.
As you inevitably take control of soldier hosts, you'll drop into overly familiar and pretty flat first-person shooter gameplay. Chances are if you've got a gun in hand, there's going to be someone or something to shoot. Most enemies are pushovers, though, and while the bosses are a bit tougher, they just follow exploitable patterns. At least it handles well enough.
It doesn't last very long, though. Most gamers will float through the single-player component in a weekend or even one long session and there's really no reason to do it again. Luckily, some depth is added by way of the multiplayer.
Split into a triple threat of bogeyman battles, multiplayer Geist is passably interesting. Possession Deathmatch simply has you seeking out a host to kill other players, while Capture the Host has you retrieving bodies and bringing them back to your base. Hunt rounds out the selection by pitting the ghosts against the humans in an all-out battle to determine who's at the top of the ectoplasmic food chain. Despite being limited to four-player split-screen (*shakes fist at Nintendo's missing online plan*), the game pleasantly supports bots. The matches are decent fun and put a nice spin on what would otherwise be just another bad first-person shooter.
It's safe to say that such care was not given to the game's delivery. Perhaps due to too many moons in the development oven, Geist's presentation is pretty dated and generally bland. The environments aren't particularly complex, filled with corridor after corridor of boring rooms. Short loading times keep the action up front, but you can't escape the overall lack of polish.
Appropriately spooky sounds accompany the act of frightening things, but there's a weird disconnect between simple audio phrases and the text-based communication. For example, every time you speak to a soldier, you'll hear "Sir!" regardless of what he's actually saying in text. This lack of attention to detail makes it that much harder to really get into the game.
Although to be frank, other reasons make Geist a hard sell. It certainly has something going for it with the unique possession mechanic and clever puzzles, but the linear gameplay, mediocre delivery and short story makes it a house more cursed than haunted.